- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 15, 2003

DETROIT Mustafa, 33, a Pakistani, is hiding in a fleabag motel here, on the lam from the immigration service.
His student visa ran out 10 years ago and when the U.S. government told him he had to register by March 21, along with the rest of the Pakistani population in America, he sold his car, quit his job as a factory worker in St. Paul, Minn., and headed for Canada.
Thousands of illegal immigrants from Middle Eastern countries are seeking asylum in Canada, massing in run-down motels and refugee sanctuaries on the U.S. side of the border, where they are sheltered and sometimes hidden from the immigration service.
Some, like Mustafa, are assisted by U.S. government-funded agencies until their hearing with Canadian officials.
They come here specifically because of the well-staffed immigration office in Windsor, Ontario, right over the Ambassador Bridge, just two miles across the Detroit River, and because of Canada's lenient immigration policies and absence of post-September 11 regulations similar to those enacted by the United States that require stricter monitoring of Middle Eastern men.
U.S. immigration policy now requires special registrations, including photographing and fingerprinting, of male immigrants from 29 mostly Muslim and Middle Eastern countries.
Even more enticing for those headed for Canada is its failure to detain asylum-seekers; sometimes they are given a return date and allowed to stay in the country, and sometimes even work.
"I could have gone through International Falls," says Mustafa, who quit the classes he purportedly came here to attend in 1993 after one year. "But I checked the Internet and found that this was the place to go through. It was reported to be the easiest."
U.S. officials yesterday said they typically support the refugee services and that their benefits outweigh their harboring of illegals.
"It becomes a matter of how these [illegals] are being advised," said Bill Strassberger, a spokesman for the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. "If they are being told to avoid the law, then it would be something we would look into."
He added that the aliens who are leaving the country are besieging refugee shelters more than the immigration service. A spokeswoman for Canada's immigration service declined to comment on the situation.
Since fall, when the registration deadline kicked in, Freedom House, a 35-bed refugee facility at the foot of the Ambassador Bridge, has seen an increase of 275 percent in refugee claims to Canada, from 70 last year at this time to 263 this year.
"We started with Iraqis in the fall and moved on to Pakistanis" who were leaving the United States for Canada, said David Koelsch, a staff lawyer at Freedom House.
Until recently, "90 percent of our work has been getting people asylum in the U.S.," he said. "But now, they know that to go before the INS is to be deported and to be locked up in jail while they wait to be deported."
Freedom House received 63 percent of its $844,691 income last year from U.S. government grants, according to records.
An immigration official in Detroit, speaking on the condition of anonymity, did say that any U.S. agency that assists illegals in eluding registration is "helping them circumvent the law."
"We can take [illegals] in if they are not here for a valid purpose. But is not always easy finding them," the official said.
To date, nearly half of all the 96,586 immigrants to register with the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System did so at monitored border crossings, voluntarily or otherwise.
The border deluge has caused one of the few private refugee-aid groups on the border to stop assisting those fleeing the country. Vermont Refugee Assistance announced it can no longer help the illegals claiming asylum as of yesterday.
By helping illegals from Middle Eastern countries leave the United States, they are seen by some as aiding lawbreakers.
"This is a situation in which these people trying to leave have assistance in subverting U.S. immigration laws," said Steve Camarota, director of research for the Center of Immigration Studies, a group that supports legal immigration.
The situation could find relief in the Safe Third Country Agreement, an accord approved in December by the United States and Canada that would close the Canadian border to many refugees from the United States.
The agreement, expected to take effect later this year, provides that immigrants can seek asylum only in the country they originally entered.
The Detroit immigration official said the agreement is just a small step on Canada's part in securing what he said is a porous northern border. "Canada, which has before taken these refugees when they are illegal here, now doesn't want them either," said the agent.
Mustafa expects to enter Canada in the coming weeks and plans to head to Toronto. While his parents live in Pakistan he spoke to them this week he doesn't believe he has any culpability as an illegal here.
"Just because I don't have status does not make me a criminal," he said.

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